Fear Tactics and Free Speech

Two year ago, a Danish journalist/cartoonist gave his political opinion with a newspaper cartoon that depicted a caricature of Muhammed, and there were death threats and rioting by those who described themselves as “offended.”  The cartoonist was arrested on charges of discrimination against Muslims.

A Paris court also handed down a $23,325 fine against Brigitte Bardot, the former screen sex symbol and current animal rights campaigner.  She was also ordered to pay $1,555 in damages to MRAP, a prominent French “anti-racist” group which filed a lawsuit over a letter she published in her animal rights foundation newsletter and which she also had sent to then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.  Evidently, she had criticized the Muslim feast of Aid-el-Kebir, which is celebrated by the slaughtering of sheep, and had expressed her concern that Muslim laws were beginning to dominate French culture and jurisprudence. French anti-racism laws prevent the incitement of hatred and discrimination on racial and/or religious grounds.  Bardot had previously been convicted four times for “inciting racial hatred.”  Her attorney said, “She is tired of this type of proceeding.  She has the impression that people want to silence her.” No kidding.

English courts are now becoming a popular destination for libel suits against American authors.  The cases have largely been brought against American writers and scholars for criticizing Islam or “naming names” of those who appear to support and fund terrorism.  To avoid costly litigation, some American publishers are withdrawing the publication of those books.  Unlike in American law, in Britain, the burden of proof in libel cases is on the author, since British law considers the disputed information as false until proven true. 

Here in the United States, Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Joseph Lieberman (Ind/D-CT) have introduced the Free Speech Protection Act of 2008, which bars U.S. courts from enforcing libel judgments issued in foreign courts against U.S. residents, if the speech would not be libelous under American law.  The bill also permits American authors and publishers to countersue if the material is protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution.  This legislation wouldn’t protect those who recklessly or maliciously print false information, but it would ensure that Americans are held to and protected by American standards.

According to Specter and Lieberman as quoted in The Wall Street Journal (7/14/08):
 “The 1964 Supreme Court decision in NY Times vs. Sullivan established that journalists must be free to report on newsworthy events unless they recklessly or maliciously publish falsehoods.  At that time, opponents of civil rights were filing libel suits to silence news organizations that exposed state officials’ refusal to enforce federal civil rights laws.  Now we are engaged in another great struggle – this time against Islamic terror – and again, the enemies of freedom seek to silence free speech.  Our legislation will help ensure that they do not succeed.”

The anti-free speech forces have accomplished a lot in Europe and in our own universities (with their tyranny of the “politically correct”).  This is the time to draw that line in the sand.